Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

Yes, as a matter of fact, I have been in hiding.


It is difficult to crank out blog posts when you are hiding under the desk.


Maybe it had something to do when my last bike ride almost turned into an horrific scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds


Opening scene: The camera pans a bucolic country road of rolling hills and then focuses on an old farmstead with fading paint and a picket fence, and a stand of stately cottonwood shade trees.


Along the barely two-lane road,  the picture picks up a pack of strolling peacocks, some of which were strutting colorful plumage in a perfect picture of rural serenity.


Then the camera zooms in on an approach of a Tour de France wannabe, replete with body-conforming Latex bike shorts and a colorful skintight biking jersey, which leaves the viewer with no doubt that body-conforming is not necessarily a good thing.


As the background soundtrack rises to a menacing crescendo. the peacocks turn in unison, glaring in annoyance of the advancing bike rider. The pudgy, hirsute bike rider skids to a stop just at the sight of the larger-than-you-might-think birds as they appear to be sharpening their claws on the roadway.


   angry peacock


In a rare instance of good judgment, I…I mean the bike rider in the movie…flips his bike towards home and pedals furiously while frequently peering over his shoulder, checking if a flock of angry birds have taken flight in his direction, knowing that they can fly a lot-better-than-you-might-think.


Unbeknownst to the bike rider, like an unending Grade-B horror flick, the dangers had taken but only a brief hiatus.


Just as the hapless central character of our story makes the final turn for his home, he glances at a troop of wild turkeys strolling peacefully down the middle of the road.


     turkeys in road


Given the encounter with the peacocks just moments prior, and now seeing the very large turkeys beginning to form a gauntlet along the only road to home, as the background music foretells that a character in the movie is about to bite the dust, a flashback begins of another wild bird encounter some many years previous.


      turkey attacks bike rider


Like a Quentin Tarantino saga, alas this ends the story contained on Reel One.


Stay tuned.


      turkey versus bike tire


In the meantime, it’s back under the desk.


Cue, woeful, haunting melody as the credits roll.

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The invitation from a close family member—who shall remain undisclosed for reasons that will become obvious—was simple enough.

“Bring the kayaks, the dog, and whatever sleeping stuff you need, and we will bring the rest.”

Full Disclosure: Let me say, I am fully aware that you can’t just go recreate willy-nilly in the woods without considering where you are willy nillying.


   old man head rock

                (Look at that rock. Lay on your side. No, your other side.)



Some city folks are of the impression that the forests are free for frolicking wherever they wish, as it’s all probably public land, after all. Or, at least it looks that way to them.

(Mountain folks typically know better, but may just choose to ignore the fact.)


If you look at an ownership map of the wildlands of the western U.S., you will see a literal checkerboard ownership.


This includes federal ownership of various flavors, such as national parks, national forests, wilderness areas, and other designations, and these lands are under the control of disparate bureaucracies, including the Forest Service, the Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management (wow, they even have bureaucracy in their name), to name but a few.


Sanctioned activities range from allowing clear-cutting of entire stands of venerable old trees in certain areas, to, “if you pick up that rock we will drone you into oblivion.”


Then there are a number of state owned lands, including,

School Lands were granted to the State of California by the federal government …and consisted of the 16th and 36th sections of land in each township (with the exceptions of lands reserved for public use, lands taken by private land claims, and lands known to be mineral in character).”

“…school lands be proactively managed and enhanced to provide for an economic base in support of the public school system.”

In other words, some of those trees may be logged to pay for the college desk you stuck you gum under (which I’m still trying to get off the knee of my pants).


This, of course, created yet another governmental bureaucracy.

(To manage those lands, not the gum on my pants.)


Back in the day, additional land grants were given to the railroads so James West and Artemus Gordon would have some place to put their fancy-schmancy train as they gamboled their way across the country .


But, when you drive up to that isolated, mountain lake that looks like the perfect place to set up your tent and build a campfire for some S’mores (made from Maker’s Mark marshmallows, premium dark chocolate, and fancy graham crackers – yes, they were fantastic), you might keep in mind that much of the forest lands are privately owned, whether in the massive holdings of Sierra Pacific Industries, or Ma and Pa Kettle with their 1 acre of prime pot-growing land.


So, I know all this.


But, our daughter our local guide said she had camped at this exact same spot just recently, and without any negative consequence—which, of course, could mean that they just didn’t get caught.


   Kidd Lake view

                                 (Looks like public land to me…)



I guess the allure of the amazing spot and the dearth of signs informing us otherwise, we drove down to the lake’s edge and assumed it was probably permissible to park our camp chairs and beer-laden ice chests.


But, I must have had a premonition of the coming Calamitous Kidd Lake Campout Confrontation, as the wife-person and I decided to just spend the day and then head home for a sleeping arrangement that did not involve hard rocks, pointy pine needles, and hungry bears.


And crazy ladies.


After a picture perfect day of quiet mountain water sports, lazy shoreline lounging, and beer quaffing, we drove out on the few miles of nasty rough road to get back to the interstate.


Franks Putin poseur pic

(Wait, is this that Putin putz or a world published travel writer just sucking in his gut?)


Apparently, it was the morning after when the entertainment ensued, and by entertainment, I mean totally bizarre behavior. 


While the men-folk were off fishing, the ladies were enjoying the quiet of the camp, just until some wild woman came peddling across the lake—from who knows where—on one of those hokie looking water bikes.


     water bike


The story as told to me (and repeated here with a possibility of a wee bit of imprecision) was that the female interloper came into the camp screaming about trespassing and disregard for private property and lack of recognition of same (although not a single sign stating the property was private was to be found).


My…ah, close relative and her friend remained calm and apologized if an unintentional transgression had occurred, and offered to pick up and leave immediately.

All the while, crazy lady is continuing to scream and take pictures of the vehicles and license plates and claim that the gendarmes were called and were en route.


   yelling lady

At that point, the crazy lady’s morning meds must have kicked in, as she abruptly transmogrified into the nicest, sweetest person, whose voice reduced in both decibels and displeasure, and began to hug the person she had just been yelling at.


Then, thankfully, water bike woman hopped back on her aquatic steed and went back to whatever meth lab she had taken her leave from.


Sorry I missed it.


No, I’m not.


   SUP dogs

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Here we are, sitting in near darkness, seduced by the spectacular scenery of this wilderness setting.


We are neither cold nor uncomfortable, or bothered by the hard ground.


Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are sitting in plush seats of a temperature-controlled movie theater.


Nevertheless, I recently asked myself,

“Self…why do we wander out into the wilderness? What does it do for, or to, us?”


        Grand Canyon - Colorado River


I have been getting into the great outdoors for as long as I have been breathing. While I came onto this planet in the suburban setting of the San Francisco east bay area, I was lucky to be born to parents who had a love for the fresh, pine-scented forests of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where I spent many a youthful summer.

We used to take annual family car camping trips up to places like Lake Tahoe, and stays at Camp Mather, just outside of Yosemite.


In my formative years, I donned the merit badge-festooned uniform of the Boy Scouts of America—long before scandals of homophobia and the concept of low-impact camping techniques were de rigueur.

(One of our first tasks when making camp was to surround our canvas tents with drainage ditches cut deep into the fragile soil.)


       This is how we rolled back in the day.


While in college in the early 70’s, I joined the Chabot College hiking club, where we would venture up to the central Sierras. My love of wilderness grew during those treks, which may have had something to do with the recreational herbaceous materials we would pass around in the back of the van during the drive.


Or, maybe it was that I discovered women would backpack topless and were—occasionally—not averse to sharing a sleeping bag, after the ritual herb sharing around the campfire.

Hey, remember that was the post Haight-Asbury, Summer of Love era.


But, what really broadened my horizons was my 30- year affair with the iconic outdoor travel writer, Tim Cahill. Whether from Outside Magazine articles, or his series of travel tales with tantalizing titles, his evocative prose, infused with self-effacing humor, created an impetus for global adventure discovery.


I also discovered that the outdoors meant different things to different people.


Over the intervening years, a lot of people decided that the wilderness was not just a place to get drunk, get naked and sit around in a drum circle all night.

(That is what Burning Man is for.)


The fact was, adventure travel seemed to lean more and more towards the adventure aspect of the outdoors activities.


       You go...no, you go...


Enter the world of extreme adventure. Doing it harder, faster, longer—and scarier—became the attraction, in and of itself, for some.


        Waiver...did I sign a waiver?


Is there some form of “runner’s high” which revs up the desire for extreme adventure? Can this just be the outcome of self-induced morphine-like neurotransmitters, namely endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and even something called endocannabinoids, which the human body naturally produces?

(Thanks, U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter for all those intelligent sounding words.)


Whatever the catalyst, for some, it ain’t a good time unless they bleed and it hurts. And, it gets filmed.


Back a few years, the goal for a few was to be labeled Jackass and get their videos viewed in a hit movie and television series. (I am not sure, but I think now days, you might find some of those that survived those exploits on Tosh.0)


Those wishing to forgo the gaping wounds and severe pain can still venture out—at least virtually—into slightly less testosterone-stimulated situations by viewing various adventure films.


        Brighton Bilek blood


This would include offerings from Warren Miller, Radical Reels, and locally inspired versions, like the Lake Tahoe Adventure Film Festival, or what I just saw at the Davis High School theater, a showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour.


I could not help but notice that the majority of the attendees seem to be a league of  like-minded, tattooed tribe of wannabe adventurists, displaying a true sense of uniform individuality by their apparent requisite costume, bearing labels of Columbia, Patagonia, North Face, and REI.


        AG tattoo


But, my guess is that most of that audience does get out, notwithstanding the tagline of one of those adventure film posters that boasted—albeit absurdly—watching others out there in a movie is ”the next best thing to doing it.”


Nah, we know that is not even close to being true. Really, how likely are you to see even one topless woman in an adventure film audience?


I certainly did not see any at the Banff Mountain movies last week.


Although, I did smell some smoke of a particularly distinctive odor in the parking lot during the intermission.


        Jackass movie poster

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Fully equiped.

We were there to gorge on pig parts, but how could I resist an offer for a peaceful float down a placid stretch of river?


It was a warm day and there was a promise of cold beer.


The venue was the lower Truckee River as it flows deep among the gorge of towering high-rise hotels and casinos that is downtown Reno.


There was nothing mentioned of steep drop-offs, boulder strewn riffles, and pit bulls.


I began to wonder if Number One Son-in-Law-To-Be, Jason, really wanted me at the wedding.


The wife-person and I were in the neighborhood for the storied Best of the West Rib Cook-off, held in Sparks, Nevada, which puts up so much barbeque smoke it can probably be smelled over the hill at the annual Burning Man desert happening.


They burn an effigy of a man, while back in “civilization,” thousands of pounds of pig are sacrificed for our dining pleasure.


The offer for some time on the water was perfect to whet the appetite for the upcoming gluttony of barbeque sauce-saturated charred meat. I mean, what could happen such a short distance from a bustling city, which is home to a major regional medical center?


We put onto the river aboard bright blue and white squishy float tubes with integrated headrests and handholds, which I assume are there to provide some false sense of safety for unwitting occupants who had no idea what awaited us downstream, namely me.


“Trust us,” is what I was assured by Jason, and his trusty sidekick Ryan, with his Olympic swimmer physique. (I could look like that…if I was 30-years younger, 50-pounds lighter, and a 100% in better shape.)


I guess I should have initially recognized these were not designed for serious whitewater, given that each tube had two beer can holders; serious drinking maybe, but not Class III and above whitewater.


My second clue that the afternoon excursion had more of the latter expectations of an expedition, was the matching floating ice and beer carrier that was lashed to Jason’s river craft.


It’s not like I haven’t done some big water before. I’ve rafted the Main Fork and, more recently, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. I survived summer monsoon-generated flash floods on the Green River in Utah, and experienced other white water rafting runs in northern California and southern Oregon.


Cue 2001 Space Odessy theme music.

Our three-hour cruise began innocently enough on a slow moving stretch of the Truckee River, where we climbed onto our watercraft along the bank of a quiet, tree-shaded city park. Beers were passed around and we sat back and lazily stared aimlessly as the puffy white clouds drifted overhead.


It was shortly thereafter that the river took on a different persona. I think, maybe, it was when we passed an ominous six-story monolith when the pace of the river hastened.


Large boulders began to make their presence known in increasing quantity and bulk, which required a fair bit of course correction to avoid catastrophic confrontations.


And with many just below the surface, I sustained more than a few abrupt bumps on my bottom.





Being equipped with neither a raft nor kayak paddle, my only method of navigation was frantic paddling with nothing more than the palms of my hands, which also required putting down my nicely chilled can of Guinness.


And then things got worse.



               No one said anything about rapidssssss....


As we approached the downtown area of Reno, it came to me that a serious whitewater run had been created for kayakers practicing whitewater wave surfing, perfecting their Eskimo rolls, and playing in their nimble, stubby squirt boats.


We, on the other hand, were sitting high, on large easily capsizable tubes with the stability of a floating bar of soap and the maneuverability of a barge.


The roar of the foaming drops was almost drowned out by the cackle of Jason and Ryan when they saw my eyes widen and my grip tighten.



       What's that noise?


By some miracle, or possibly under a physical state of extreme relaxation brought on by a “number” of cans of Guinness, I survived the horrific massive waterfalls and limped over to the take-out, along the constructed concrete riverbank.


As I ungracefully rolled out of my float tube and crawled up to the walkway, I discovered this area of downtown Reno happened to be the local hangout for, what I will call, overly tattooed, unemployed people with nervous mannerisms, brought on by certain manufactured pharmaceuticals, which sometimes cause violent behavior.


You probably know this class of citizen by a word that sounds like Tweakers.


They also seem to favor burley, menacing pit bulls with spiked collars. And, there on my knees, I was face-to-face with three of them.

“Nice doggies…nice doggies…”


I’m sure that Jason and Ryan will claim that this tale is rife with embellishment and hyperbole, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.


Given my advanced age and ever-worsening memory of facts—kind of like Paul Ryan at the Republican National Convention (sorry, Tom)—at least I can claim that this was the truth as I wish to recall it.


What were we talking about…???




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It was 4:30 in the morning and I awoke in a strange, dark place. A strong smoky scent hung heavily in the air, like a musty old wool blanket.


At first, the smell seemed familiar and friendly. I have been known to occasionally sip a wee dram of single malt Scotch, and this was reminiscent of 10-year old Talisker whiskey, with its peaty smoke signature.


But, I had not imbibed in one of my favorite libations for some time, and this smoke was all too real. The guestroom bed was blanketed with a deliberate heaviness in the air that foretold of the pending pain I would succumb to in the coming hours.


I was about to undertake a physical challenge more befitting of a person half my age. Or, at least someone who treated a training regime with more effort than walking out of the house to retrieve the morning newspaper.


The fact that much of Northern California was aflame in forest fires apparently was not enough to dissuade a date with destiny that had been set some twenty years previous. That, or we were just being idiots not to cancel.



        Older, but maybe not wiser.


The last Saturday in August has been the chosen day for the past twenty years for The RAH Tri, short for the Rural Aging Hippie Triathlon, held at Eagle Lake, up in the northeast corner of the California.


       Too young to know better.


This supposedly social outdoor challenge has probably been misnamed for all these years, as not all of the original eight brave souls were really all that rural to begin with. Plus, some of the group definitely took exception to being described as a “hippie,” whatever that term means, to begin with.


The course consists of an open water swim of unknown length along the buoy line along the south end of the lake. Wetsuits, fins, goggles, and snorkels are allowed, and possibly motorized propulsion units disguised as flotation devices.


This is followed with a mountain bike ride on a treacherous rock-strewn steep dirt road, and then onto a paved road, often chocked with oversized RV’s clamoring for campground sites.

        Mind the boulders.

Finally, the group—once gathered—finishes the fun with a run of five-ish miles, back to the area where we started.


Even though our event once had the subtitle of “Tri for Fun,” I don’t really remember it ever being all that much fun twenty years ago.

Nowadays, I think I would  rather go in to have my prostate checked. (Wait…did I say that out loud?)


In addition to the lung-choking smoke, I also had the handicap of competing in this event while suffering with an elevation change from sea level one day, to 12,500 feet above my level of conditioning, the next.

(And by  “competing,” I mean showing up.)


One of the arcane—and probably unique—rules of this particular triathlon is that everyone must wait for everyone else at the end of each leg of the event.


This rule was enacted by the RAH Tri Official Rules Committee, which happens to consist of a solitary participant of the group, who: (a) self-elected himself, (b) has steadfast refused to either share the committee responsibilities or relinquish the duties, and—not surprisingly—(c) is a terrible swimmer and doesn’t want to get left behind.

It would not be nice to this person to be embarrassed by name. (His name is JOHN!)


But, I thwarted the grasp of the rules committee (Is there a singular form of the word committee?) by creating my own RAH Tri course.


Given my sore knee, I only swam “some” of the course, rode a “portion” of the bike ride, and then returned to the area, where we parked along the beach, to create my own private triathlon event, which consisted of a relax, drink a beer, and nap a time of an unknown length.


After all, this was not the Expedition Man Triathlon for the truly disturbed overachievers being held at the same time, not far away. That torturous event involved a 2 1/2 mile swim in the arctic-temperature of Lake Tahoe, an over-100 mile bike ride over the mountain, followed by running a full 26-mile marathon for dessert.


       Where's the billboard for the RAH Tri?


Not that we couldn’t have been competitive.


I mean, look at our pictures taken 20-years apart…I say none of us looks a day over 80, right?


O.K. maybe it would have been tough at Tahoe. Hell, I needed a nap just typing this story.

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Stay thirsty, my friends

The beach was Baja-esque and the beer was distinctly Mexican, but any additional resemblance to previous sojourns south of the border would be based on our chosen camping comrades and the prolific consumption of fresh lime slices appurtenant to a multitude of Pacificos.


Besides, this trek required neither passports, nor pesos.


Given the superb camping site at the end of a rough, rocky dirt road along the shore of a beautiful, large northeastern California lake, I was cautioned by our posse not to divulge the specific details as to our location, under threat of severe pummeling by a large metal liquid-carrying container.


But, I am getting ahead of myself.


Before we could even leave home, there were camp lists to flesh out and flasks to fill.


Well, that killed that bottle.


A bantam-sized flask of Makers Mark whiskey was requested by the wife-person (almost half of which made it back home), and then there was a somewhat more ample container of Bombay Sapphire gin, which actually holds over a “handle” of the so-called Blue Bottle.


Full disclosure: almost none of those two liters of that libation remained at the end of the campout, but truth-be-told, it was somewhat of a community “resource.” (And that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)


Once the packing list was compiled, the truck was loaded and the drive was on. Given that this was the first camping trek with my relatively new truck, the last thing I wanted was dog hairs all over the seats, and since the back end was full of absolutely necessary outdoor equipment (see previous discussion regarding liquid provisions), well, you wouldn’t expect me to put the poor pooch on the roof of the vehicle, would you?


He runs faster than he looks.


But, not to worry; I did stop occasionally to allow him to catch his breath.


Once we arrived lakeside, we found a lone shade tree, which proved perfect to protect our ice chests from the weekend’s blistering temps.


morning glow


Cool quiet nights along the placid lake were pierced by a spectacular sky show, as part of the peak of Perseids meteor shower. Some searing streaks seemed to hang in the night sky like shiny bright tinsel.

While the night sky was clear and full of bright stars, the days were sometimes clouded with the smell of nature burning.

Apparently, we had not followed the local news reports that much of northern California was being scorched as a result of multiple wildfires. Dependent on the whims of the wind direction, we were sometimes subject to heavy drifting smoke.

It wasn’t until the drive home, did we see the many end times-sized smoke columns billowing up along the Sierra Nevada mountain range, as well as from new fires popping up within the interior coastal range.

The massive fire near the Feather River canyon had created a colossal column that had become a huge cloud typical of a thunderhead build-up.

In other words, if it wasn’t the end of the world, as predicted by the Mayan calendar, it could have been an effective film trailer for the next post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie.


quiet times


Nevertheless, our days were occupied with windsurfing, stand-up paddling, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, and other, somewhat less energetic activities.


The solitude of the scenery was stark yet settling.


Golden glow evenings


This was a good place to hang out and I am sure we will return again.


Sunday, another blood Sunday


But, I will have to check: do they make flasks larger than half a gallon?


A person doesn’t want to end up dangerously low of necessary provisions.


Caution sign

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No, that was not me running around naked in the mountains near Salt Lake City.


   don't shoot


An A.P. news story reported on some guy, literally crawling around the mountains above Ogden, in what was described as a loosely fitting, homemade goat outfit, complete with fake horns and cloth mask with cut-out eye holes, attempting—for reasons yet unknown—to mingle in with wild goats.


Yes, my copious covering of body hair has been tending towards turning white as I approach “advanced middle age,” but, I guarantee I don’t want to be mistaken for a mountain goat by either an amorous Billy (as in a goat of a male variety), nor a passionate hunter, especially as hunting season approaches.


And, by passionate hunter, I mean in the sport of hunting furry wild animals, not in any inappropriate or obscene manner…well, I certainly hope not.

(Remember, we are talking about goats here, NOT sheep.)


As I have revealed in many a past post, I am enamored with the high country east of Salt Lake City, whether we are talking about the epic ski resorts of the magnificent Wasatch range, or the multitude of high-mountain lakes scattered throughout the stark peaks of the Uintas.


But, never naked or in costume.


Back to the initial sighting of, what is being called, goat man, goat man picture 

“Coty Creighton spotted the goat man Sunday during his hike. He said he came across the herd, but noticed something odd about one goat that was trailing behind the rest.”


In his story to the Standard-Examiner of Ogden, Creighton said, 

"I thought it was a deformed goat." 


Creighton provided additional details on his encounter by reporting,

"It was clumsy, not nimble. He was on his hands and knees, crawling along the mountainside."


In what might be stating the obvious, Creighton concluded his report to the paper by saying,

"Something was definitely off with that guy."


O.K. Given the last two quotes, I guess I can see how people might have mistaken me for this guy.


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Roseate Spoonbill

This just in, from the annals of why I travel.


Sometimes the most amazing wildlife sightings appear right in my own backyard.


I have gazed at grizzly bears in Denali National Park in Alaska; I have dove with reef sharks in the Sulu Sea of the Philippines; I have watched the wildly colored Roseate Spoonbill at the Sian Ka’an biosphere in the Yucatán.


But, the other day I reveled in the resilience of nature while only a few feet from my back door.


Behind our 1916 farmhouse, we have a barn that we put at about 70 years old, which serves as home to our resident feral feline mouse hunter. We occasionally supplement her rodent diet with some cat food.


(We know she is a she since our nice wildlife-loving neighbors once captured her and had her “fixed.”)


When I walked back there the other day with a handful of cat kibbles, I was astonished with a scene that immediately brought to mind an image of a completely different setting.


A few months ago, I took you on a high country rock climbing adventure, which included the following picture of an intrepid covey of climbers who, from my vantage point, looked like a bunch of ants crawling up a sheer, vertical rock wall.



           Are those ants up there?


So, what in the hell could I have found in a weathered old wooden structure that would have any visual association to that scene?


Be forewarned, not having been there yourself to bear witness to—what I found to be—an amazing act within the animal kingdom, albeit at a diminutive scale, chances are you will probably yawn and click back to something entirely more interesting.


Leading from the bowl, which we leave out there to feed our feline friend, I could not help but notice a long trail of ants which snaked up the wall, went under the overhang of the supporting 2×4’s, and continued up and out of sight. 


“So what?” you might ask. Who hasn’t seen such a scene right in their own kitchen?


But, if you look closely at the following photos you will notice that these guys are packing pieces of cat food many times their size and weight—what I would guess for them would be—an arduous act of team work.



        Team Ants



(Hell, the wife-person and I can’t even team up to put up wallpaper with just two of us working.)




        Ant wall climb


Before you accuse me of sometimes becoming too easily impressed, did I mention that I am pretty sure that I imagined that I also heard a tiny voice chime out from that sheer, vertical plywood wall,

“On repel!”


Now if I could just find my pith helmet…

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I love lightning,


…the initial, almost blinding, pure bright light, followed by the ear-shattering sounds which resonate in the air like crashing symbols, the raw destructive power of nature as old as time, itself.


I am scared shitless around lightning.


I know, that might sound more than a tad bit contradictory.


        Scary cool.


Having worked very closely to lightning my entire career as a wildland firefighter, in areas prone to late summertime thunderstorms, I have chased forest fires—sometimes for weeks—that began as a simple, lone lightning strike. In 1988, I spent an entire month on the Clover Mist fire in northern Yellowstone National Park, which burned over 400,000 acres—at the time, the largest fire ever in the lower 48.


My respect for lightning may have something to do with my summer as a lowly firefighter in the San Bernardino National Forest, back in 1970. One afternoon, we were on patrol looking for any fires resultant of a thunderstorm going through the area.


While my Fire Captain (a.k.a Foreman) sat behind the steering wheel with the safety of rubber-tired insulation in the light green pickup pumper truck, I was on foot, walking through the brush and timber looking for any small wisps of smoke that would reveal a recent fire start, when I saw the flash of the lightning strike at the exact same time I heard the thunder.


The rule of thumb to determining how many miles a thunder strike is away from you is to divide the time between the lightning and the thunder by five, so given the instantaneous occurrence, carry the zero, the speed of light at 186,000 miles per second, multiply by one, the speed of sound at 343.2 meters per second at 20 °C and then divide by…HOLY SHIT THAT WAS CLOSE!


As I made my way back to the relative safety of the truck cab, in what you might say was lightning swiftness, I had to wait until my Foreman was able to contain his hysterical laughter, so he could revel having just seen me—in what he claims—was my covering a span of about 50 yards without once ever touching the ground.


Ha, ha, ha…very effing funny…


When I saw the headline the other day about some guy recently getting a severe electrical shock in a national park located in California, I thought that odd, as you don’t often see lightning producing thunderstorms in northern California in the middle of winter.


But, then I read that this particular form of lightning happened to come from a hand-held device.

“A man walking his dogs in a federal park was hit with a stun gun…by a park ranger who accused him of not putting a leash on the animals.”

Contain that mutt.

At first glance, this seemed somewhat harsh, until I read the explanation given by the officials.

“It appears the incident began as one of several educational contacts that day about the NPS rules on dog-walking.”


Wow, that sounds like Dick Cheney style “education.”


The official reiterated why the park ranger jolted the guy with 50,000 (500,000…5 million?!?) volts smack in his back, by saying,

“The ranger was trying to educate residents about the leash requirement.”


Hey, at least that is less than the 100 million (1 billion?!?) volts in a lightning bolt.


So, Virgil, if you’re out there somewhere, reading this…it really wasn’t all that funny if you were the one trying to outrun a gazillion volt blast up the ass.


O.K. maybe in hindsight it was a little funny.

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Nope, nothing to see. My necks just jacked.

Come on now.


I thought Chicken Little was only a fable

(Thank goodness Wikipedia went un-dark.)


It was just a week ago I gave you a heads-up (pun very much intended) that something called a Phobos Grunt was falling out of the sky and dropping to earth at some undisclosed location.


Well, if you’re not dead, I guess it missed you.


I don’t know about you, but the reason you haven’t heard from me for the past week was a) I was hunkered down in a bunker, deep underground that lacked a wifi hotspot, and b) with Wikipedia going dark how did you expect me to look up anything?


Just as I took a peek outside, there is news that,

“A huge sunspot unleashed a blob of charged plasma Thursday that space weather watchers predict will blast the Earth.”

"Our simulations show potential to pack a good punch to Earth’s near-space environment," said Antti Pulkkinen of the Space Weather Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.”


(Note: I am not sure I would trust anything in writing from some place or someone called Goddard’s anything.)


I do appreciate when the scientists can stay calm and explain things in a clear manner,

“At their most intense, solar discharges — known as "coronal mass ejections" — can disrupt satellites, radio communications and the power grid, and force airlines to reroute transcontinental flights.”


But according to that story in the Washington Post, apparently, their first reaction was,

“Oh my God!”

Ain’t that reassuring?!?


           Suri...Suri...are you still there?


It makes me wonder what kind of people work at those space centers.


That was just until I read that they have someone called a “Chief Space Junk Watcher”

While they should be handing out rolls of aluminum foil so we can protect ourselves in the great outdoors, they are more interested in watching junk burn up.

‘Heightened solar activity has a more tangible benefit: It cleans up space junk.”


While I’m worrying that this “Oh, my God” solar flare will melt my skin, those Goddard folks are all excited that the space trash, which I might add, they put there, will get vaporized.


Maybe I’ll come back out in another week.

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